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Ideological Bias Reflected In American Crime Statistics

2719 words - 11 pages

As Nils Christie argued, crime is a property of the state (2004). As such, it can be defined by the same systems of ideals which influence the state. Crime statistics, which refer to a category of human acts that society view as deviant, can consequently be argued to be without objectivity (Dorling and Simpson, 1999). The statistics they provide are thus arguably not exact. To a certain extent one could infer they are reflections of society, of those who present the data and most importantly of those who accumulate it. The facts themselves become a socially constructed foundation for social knowledge, which inevitably become subjective. This essay aims to discuss how ideological biases within the Police and to a certain extent the media are reflected in the crime statistics.
Police recordings of crime has been a main source for crime statistics for decades, but these recordings are known to greatly represent a particular ideological bias: Institutional racism. As defined by Macpherson (1999) Institutional Racism consists of the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. Though his accounts have been criticized, there has been evidence in studies that ideologies about particular groups has influenced policing to a certain extent. An example being Westley's study into violence and police during the 1970's. The study demonstrated that the police held a series of ideologies about the type of characteristics a criminal held. In fact, several officers believed the criminal was generally unemployed, uneducated and would resort to crime to obtain what they could not legally acquire (1970).
During the time of the study, these characteristics were commonly held by a particular group of people: the Black community, whom were more likely to be unemployed, uneducated and living in impoverished areas (Yates, 2005; U.S. Bureau labour Statistics, 1970 and 2008; U.S. Bureau of the Census Current Population Reports, 1981). Coincidently, Westley's study demonstrated that more than half of those officers suggested that Black people were biologically disposed to criminality, describing them as 'born criminals' and 'naturally lacking in sense of morals'. As Swigert and Farrell stated: 'Stereotypes not only shape public attitudes and behaviour toward deviants, but guide the very choice of individuals who are to be defined and processed'(1997a) . Similarly Cicourel (1968) found that police develop theories about individuals and groups, the good and the bad, and such conceptions are employed in a routine way. In London in particular, the black community were targeted by the police using laws which dated back to 1824, which allowed officers to arrest anyone on the suspicion that they were about to commit an offence (Demuth, 1979).
Indeed the crime statistics of The Crime Survey for England and Wales (2004/5) show that, relative to the general...

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